Promoting a Purpose-filled Career: Simon Sinek

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Simon Sinek: Ethnographer, Author, Marketing Consultant

Ethnographer Simon Sinek’s first TED Talk, “Start With Why,” is the third most-watched talk of all time on TED.com, garnering more than 28 million views. In the talk, Sinek explains that most companies start with “what” they do, then move to “how” they do it, leaving discussion of “why” they do what they do largely neglected.

He wrote his first book, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” to explore his concept of core beliefs — what he calls the “Golden Circle.” His additional books, “Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t” and “Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration,” published in September, build on the message of building a world where most workers head home feeling fulfilled.

Sinek is an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank.

Your recent comments about Millennials in the workplace went viral. Can you recap?

I spoke at NRF’s Student Program [at Retail’s BIG Show] about what it takes to have a purposeful career. There’s a difference between a job that pays the bills and a career that makes you feel excited about going to work every day.

Having a career they’re passionate about is particularly important to Millennials. While leaders have said that they are often confounded by this generation, there are steps [they] can take to give Millennials the career they are looking for.

Employers can encourage a healthy balance with technology. Don’t set expectations around checking work emails on the weekend or before coming into the office. Don’t allow phones in meetings. Instead, foster an environment that encourages small talk before the meeting begins, which helps to build work relationships.

Millennials can have a hand in their own happiness. One way to do that is to work on patience. In a world of instant gratification, it’s important to manage expectations. It’s tempting — especially when first starting out — to want it all and want it immediately.

It takes at least six months to settle into a job. Unless it’s oppressive and awful, don’t leave too quickly. Even if your boss is supportive and your company offers a positive environment, maintaining a sense of joy and passion for your work will take effort.

Junior positions are a gift because these workers can try different things, make mistakes and learn from people around them. Don’t squander opportunities by trying to be perfect or giving up too soon.

Finally, humility is essential for both leaders and those just starting their careers. Career growth brings opportunities for promotions. The bigger the title, the better the perks. As soon as you leave a high-ranking position, the perks go away. It’s a reminder to not take accolades and privileges personally — they go along with a position.

Leaders should stay humble and be grateful. The more grateful you are, the more others will want to follow you. Practice gratitude and humility when you’re in a junior position and carry that attitude with you throughout your career.

How can retailers create a more compelling workplace to gain the loyalty of a
multi-generational workforce?

Usually, companies default to the numbers. They offer employees more money. They offer them better benefits. That works temporarily but it does not breed loyalty, and you’re not necessarily attracting the people who will make the best employees.

What you must do is create an environment in which they will thrive. How many retailers care about the lives of the people who work in their stores? Do you care about their growth as human beings? Are they learning human skills, like listening and communication?

The point is, take care of them. Let them work in an environment where they feel like they are growing as human beings, that the organization cares about them … and wants to see their careers grow. The more they feel that, the more they will devote their blood and sweat and tears to see that your organization thrives.

Leaders should stay humble and be grateful. The more grateful you are, the more others will want to follow you. Practice gratitude and humility when you’re in a junior position and carry that attitude with you throughout your career.

Any examples?

I stayed at a hotel in Las Vegas with a coffee stand in the lobby. I bought a cup of coffee one afternoon and there was a barista who really went above and beyond to take care of me. This kid was wonderful and fantastic and funny and made me feel as if I was the only person in the world that mattered.

So of course I asked him, “Do you like your job?” Without skipping a beat, he said he loved his job. There was another woman working with him that day. She too smiled and said that they both loved their jobs.

So I asked, “What is it that your company is doing that would make you say to me that you love your job?” Immediately he told me that throughout the day, managers would walk past him and ask how he is doing. They’ll ask if there’s anything that he needs to do his job better. This is not only the case with the manager he works with directly, but with all senior folks at this hotel.

Then he said something that really resonated with me. He said he also works at a different hotel chain [where] the manager only walks around to catch people who are doing something wrong. There is almost no positive interaction, so he just tries to keep his head down and get through the day.

So the leadership issue impacts customers?

The customer experience over at hotel A is going to be very, very different than the customer experience at hotel B. And yet, it’s the same person working at both places. The only difference is the leadership and how the employee feels about his job.

In one organization, the leader cares about the person. In the other organization, leadership cares about the numbers first. Employees feel immense pressure to do everything right, which creates an environment where the people just want to get through the day.

Before I left, the barista said to me, “Only at this hotel do I feel I can be myself.” That authenticity is clear to both customers and other employees, and that is how you create loyalty and love to attract both employees and customers alike.

What must retailers do to develop deep relationships with customers of any age?

Many times, I find that retailers have different strategies for different ages. However, when an organization has something that they stand for … a purpose or a cause, it will attract people [of any age] who believe what you believe.

You can absolutely change the tactics of how you deliver that message of purpose to various different demographics. But at the end of the day, you want to attract people who believe what you believe. The main message needs to be consistent. If you have different messages and are saying different things to different groups, then you may bring them into the store, but it’s unlikely that they will all fall in love with the organization.

What’s more, employees and customers alike from different age groups definitely won’t respect each other. The organization has to know its “why” and preach its “why.” When and how you deliver the message can be tactically different, but the message must ultimately be the same. Why do you exist? Why do we care? What do you stand for?

That’s what creates loyalty and love not only to the organization, but also amongst each other. Just look at some of the retail organizations that truly do this well. Whether they’re young or old, they like — sometimes even love — each other. They see themselves as one and the same.

Janet Groeber has covered all aspects of the retail industry for more than 20 years. Her reporting has appeared in AdWeek and DDI Magazine, among others.

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